Making DiscoveriesPosted: March 15, 2008
Spring is taking shape. My yard is coming back to life — daffodils are blooming, tulips are up, irises are tall and sturdy. The forsythias — all eight — will go yellow any moment now.
I discovered one little yellow bloom on the bush beside the pond. I’m watching and waiting, wanting to witness that moment when the nodes open to the light. Wanting to make that exciting discovery of lots of yellow flowers lining a curved strand, like a row of luminaries along a path.
Writing a memoir is about discovery, too. As Dinty W. Moore said in his Manuscript Workshop at the Mid-South Creative Nonfiction Conference, “Write toward discovery … the initial idea is to capture the experience, but eventually, allegiance moves to ‘what am I making of this so that all the other people out there will benefit?'”
While the story is about ME, it’s really not about me. It’s about the reader. A good story offers insight a reader can use in her own life. It must mean something to the reader; it has got to be something the reader identifies with; it should strike an emotional chord with the reader. I’m writing about things that are still vivid in my memory. If I still remember them, it’s likely because they hold a universal truth that readers will recognize from their own lives. I must dig to discover that truth or make sure the reader is able to.
To be successful at making discoveries in my own life, I must THINK — and sometimes it’s hard to really take the time to just think about my stories and what they mean. Maybe it will be easier to do when it’s warm enough and I can sit outside on the patio. Then, with new life sprouting and the energy of growth humming all around me, I will feel alive and wise and creative and productive. It is vital that I plunge deeply and process what impact an experience or event or person had on me and why.
Sometimes, to make an experience matter, I need to tell more than I’m comfortable telling. Dinty said to be 30% more honest than you possibly can. To put everything in the early drafts — it will make you daring. It will also most likely provide something a reader can grip onto and get into and wrap around herself.
Writing my memoir is simply telling one story at a time and making discoveries along the way … just like each yellow flower opens up on my forsythia until the whole bush is full.